The Message Is The Medium

Lessons from Rwanda genocide tell us to worry about hatred on WhatsApp.

Written by Sushant Singh | Published:March 28, 2017 12:02 am
Rwanda genocide, Rwanda, genocide , what is Rwanda genocide , whatsapp hatred, whatsapp genocide, whatsapp genocide hatred, RTLMC, indian express news, column The fake messages, hate videos and mean jibes that we get on WhatsApp and other digital forums cannot be simply dismissed as irrelevant.

“The graves are not yet full.” This was the slogan broadcast on the privately-owned Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) during the worst modern-era genocide: In 1994, about 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 12 weeks by the Hutus in Rwanda. The genesis of the genocide lay in Rwandan colonial history but the trigger and direction was provided by the media, particularly the radio. It became a powerful weapon to incite and direct the Rwandan genocide.

Twenty three years have passed hence, and India is miles away from Rwanda, but the lessons offered then hold great relevance today. The fake messages, hate videos and mean jibes that we get on WhatsApp and other digital forums cannot be simply dismissed as irrelevant. Put together, this narrative of animosity portends dangerous times as part of a larger project of “Hatriotism”.

From early 1990, anti-Tutsi articles and graphic cartoons had begun appearing in the Kangura newspaper. In June 1993, the RTLMC began broadcasting in Rwanda. The radio station was rowdy and used language of the street — like any other popular radio station, there were disc jockeys, pop music and phone-ins. It was designed to appeal to the unemployed, the delinquents and the gangs of thugs in the militia. As Linda Melvern, a British journalist, noted, “In a largely illiterate population, the radio station soon had a very large audience who found it immensely entertaining.”

The transcripts of RTLMC’s broadcasts are available in Duke University’s International Monitor Institute. A lot of attention has since been focused on the radio station’s efforts to direct the extermination — broadcasts told people to “go to work” and everyone knew that meant get your machete and kill Tutsis. But what has escaped greater scrutiny is the manner — by demonising the Tutsis and encouraging hate and violence — in which the radio station prepared the ground among the people of Rwanda for genocide.

The transcripts reveal RTLMC’s efforts to claim authority over the telling of Rwandan history whereby the hardline Hutu extremists exercised a monopoly over the truth. These encounters with the truth provided the basis on which genocide became justified. “Slavery” is a term repeated through the transcripts, with guests on the radio station recalling the state of Hutu slavery during colonisation. Drawing on such a vocabulary, the radio broadcasts characterised the Rwandan genocide as a slave rebellion. The RTLMC was, Hutus came to believe, helping them unpeel the layers and discover their true history, as opposed to the one told by the colonisers and the local elite.

If radio was a powerful medium then, where you only needed a transistor and a few batteries, we have the smart phone and WhatsApp today. The plethora of hate messages we get on WhatsApp mirror the phenomenon of the RLTMC, a concerted attempt to fabricate a newer version of history. Slotted amidst entertaining GIFs, videos, memes and jokes, these crude stories of hate, vitriol and victimisation provide the justification for political action. Some of us find these tales — that Nehru died of AIDS or there is a satellite tracking chip in the new Rs 2000 note — absurd but that is essentially how they work. It is akin to the Nigerian 419 scam with deliberately implausible emails which maximise the scammer’s efforts by entrapping only the most gullible, a kind of self-selection. When fake WhatsApp tales make it to top television news stories, we know that the most gullible include those who should know better.

Technology is value-neutral and what makes WhatsApp popular also makes it more dangerous than the radio or platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Unlike them, it is a targeted mass-broadcast. The platform has made it extremely easy and swift to disseminate hate-messages, by allowing people to record and spread audio and video messages among a select group. At the push of the button, these passion-inciting messages are passed on to the selected people, with the highly inflammable raw emotions in them intact.

In the past few years, several instances have come to light where communal clashes are being planned or instigated through false videos circulating on WhatsApp. The police acknowledged that WhatsApp groups were used to incite the Muzaffarnagar riots in UP in the run-up to the 2014 elections. The gau rakshaks, the Jat agitators, and protestors in Kashmir also take advantage of WhatsApp groups to organise themselves. The government has responded by banning internet in such instances, making India the global leader in imposing internet blackouts. That is a tactical solution which prevents immediate violence. But the graver challenge of creating a fertile environment of hate, round-the-clock, by distorted story-telling continues unabated.

It is not just the poor and semi-educated who are taken in by the alternative narrative of political propaganda on WhatsApp. The educated elite are equally guilty. It is a reminder of what Fergal Keane, the renowned BBC journalist noted about the killers who participated in the Rwanda genocide: “A few gave the appearance of being truly psychopathic individuals. The mass of others were ragged and illiterate peasants easily roused to hatred of the Tutsis. Perhaps the most sinister people I met were the educated political elite, men and women of charm and sophistication who spoke flawless French and who could engage in long philosophical debates about the nature of war and democracy. But they shared one thing in common with the soldiers and the peasants: They were drowning in the blood of their fellow countrymen.”

Rwanda gives us a warning. Only if we would care to heed.

sushant.singh@expressindia.com

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  1. O
    Onkar Singh
    Mar 28, 2017 at 5:12 am
    If the country's PM had been involved in perpetrating riots under his nose and he got away with it,and he proudly says before the camera that no CM was grilled for nine hours as he was,then what lessons does the country learn? The country is just an excuse.A fig leaf to cover up the mischief up ones sleeves.The country can go to the dogs as long as one can fulfill one's own wishes,by befooling the public at large.You can have 100 Rwanda s for a unlimited number of years,which politician cares for the death of the common people?We are living in strange times.Educated Hindu right wing people know what is right and what is wrong,yet he is with the wrong.Vinaash Kaley viprit budhi!!!Nothing can change the course of events when the doors of reason have been locked,and you want some one else to bell the cat.Be prepared for the fire to come up to your doorstep, you will allow it burn you up.This is what can be foreseen as of now.
    Reply
    1. S
      Seshadri
      Mar 28, 2017 at 10:55 am
      I am only so scared that a holocaust is impending in India. This time the brahmins. OMG I cannot imagine if that is going to be as brutal as WWII.
      Reply
      1. S
        Seshadri
        Mar 28, 2017 at 10:58 am
        Why should the entire ethnic group suffer for the acts of a few from their own ethnicity that has been enjoying power?
        Reply
        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Mar 28, 2017 at 2:22 pm
          The Rwanda incident shows how technology can be used, misused and abused to suit politicians and elites and bring common people under their influence
          Reply
          1. L
            lamba Lamba
            Mar 29, 2017 at 1:06 am
            1.How many people can understand this article of the billion plus Indian potion!!lt;br/gt;2. Whatsapp has only been existence for less then a decade but there were riots of sorts before it or other social media. lt;br/gt;3. Why is it more concerning now? when small pebbles have raised the water to the brim of the pot!! lt;br/gt;4. Emphasize on education and particularly history so that it'll become harder for hate mongers and politicians to manite the future generations of us.
            Reply
            1. V
              Vidhu
              Mar 28, 2017 at 3:21 am
              Just to wash off from public's mind, the memory of freedom fighters, and bring disrepute to their sacrifices various narratives are built and circulated.
              Reply
              1. A
                Ajay G
                Mar 27, 2017 at 7:50 pm
                This is the gift of social media to society. It is a double edges sword. Those who spread misinformation with ill intention forget that it may turn back to them also. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;“The graves are not yet full.”
                Reply
                1. A
                  Ajit paldhe
                  Mar 28, 2017 at 6:39 am
                  Rawan daughter is far offlt;br/gt;What lessons we learn from genocide of pandits in Kashmir is more pertinent lt;br/gt;Analyze if u have guts
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Akram
                    Mar 28, 2017 at 11:14 am
                    Majority of common people want to live in peace. Hardliners spread rumours to sow the seeds of violence and division to meet their narrow ends. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Clerics have only the role of solemnizing rituals. They can not be given charge of representing people. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;It is for the people to decide who will represent them, not clerics. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Society, not social media, gives the verdict.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Ansari
                      Mar 28, 2017 at 10:53 am
                      Do not know about outside Muslims, but Indian Muslims should stop killing cows, embrace UCC, denounce jihad and discourage jihadi activities.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Archpagan
                        Mar 28, 2017 at 5:45 am
                        History is always written by the victor. So far we have to read History written by the court Historians of the Nehru dynasty. Now, it’s time to take some lessons on History written by the Nationalists.
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          Archpagan
                          Mar 28, 2017 at 5:51 am
                          The so-called freedom fighters meant by you only divided the country on communal line in order to enjoy fruits of political power.
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            AlsoIndian
                            Mar 28, 2017 at 11:20 am
                            The mindset is now fixed that lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;EVERY MUSLIM MUST (and only Muslims) lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;apologize for all the atrocities that Muslims committed throughout the history (even if that history is fabricated), lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;regret and issue fatwa (??) for all the killings by some insane individual somewherelt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;carry a guilt of destroying temples and coverting Hinduslt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;accept that Hinduism is superior to Islamlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;accept that Hindus have the right to abuse you, beat you, kill you, burn you on the suion of eating beef. The meat will then be sent to the labs to justify the killings and 6 months later turn into beef and the killers will be draped in the national flag.
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              AlsoIndian
                              Mar 28, 2017 at 11:13 am
                              Unless proved innocent:lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If you are a Muslim, you are a terrorist!lt;br/gt;If you argue that Babri masjid was not built on Ram Mandir site, you are anti-Hindu!lt;br/gt;If you google Islamic State or ISIS you are a terrorist (even if it proved to be wrong)!lt;br/gt;If you eat meat (whatever) you are cruel!lt;br/gt;If you are against Hindutva, you are enemy of the nation!lt;br/gt;If you don't sing Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata ki Jai, you must go to stan!
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                AlsoIndian
                                Mar 28, 2017 at 11:09 am
                                and appease Hindus, and accept responsibility and submit apology for every terrorist attack across the world, and stop wearing skul caps, and stop wearing burkhas, and close all the madrasas, and don't even google for Islamic State, and stop calling azan on speakers, and accept the supremacy of Hindutvavadis, and stop eating meat, and start living as subjugated citizens, and allow us to demolish us every mosque that we claim that was previously a temple, and celebrate the victory of the likes of Modi and Yogi, and...............and........... and................
                                Reply
                                1. V
                                  Vedic.Citizen
                                  Mar 27, 2017 at 11:34 pm
                                  Did you mean the graves of 1946?
                                  Reply
                                  1. V
                                    Vedic.Citizen
                                    Mar 27, 2017 at 11:33 pm
                                    There is widespread hatred on Aryan-Brahmins in India. They should not become Tutsis of South Asia. They should take all evasive action.
                                    Reply
                                    1. B
                                      bambaikar
                                      Mar 28, 2017 at 3:31 pm
                                      strictly seed adhaar with every mobile no. Every broadband connection should be traceable with static IP. Strictly monitor cyber world.
                                      Reply
                                      1. B
                                        Binay Mahanta
                                        Mar 28, 2017 at 1:38 pm
                                        It is a BIG warning! Thoughtless hatred messages may look harmless, but when similar messages keep on circulating, then one day it may burst. Forget Rwanda, just remember the days of parion of India.
                                        Reply
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                                          bitterhoney
                                          Mar 28, 2017 at 6:22 pm
                                          If govt does not ban hate messages on social media India is likely to become Rwanda anytime.
                                          Reply
                                          1. R
                                            Reclaim kapali
                                            Mar 28, 2017 at 2:22 pm
                                            This article just blames the tools and ignores the major actor in the Rwandan genocide. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The Christian Church, even the pope has given an apology of apology, regarding that.lt;br/gt;As long as dogmatic ideologies which are exclusive, proselytizing and demand a world domination, tools might change, but macres will not.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Islam, Christianity among religions and Communism, facism among ideologies, are intrinsically incapable of co-existence with other narratives. Contextually, they might dilute, deflect the dogmatic demands, but it will always be like putting hyenas in the same cage as other animals.
                                            Reply
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